On Wednesday, a quasi-independent corporate advisory board appointed by Facebook declined to rule on whether the social media giant should permanently ban former President Donald Trump from its platform.
Instead, Facebook’s “Oversight Board” kicked the decision back to Facebook itself, giving the company a six-month window to further review Trump’s suspension and “to determine and justify a proportionate response that is consistent with the rules that are applied to other users of its platform.”
It’s the second time the ruling has effectively been delayed. An earlier decision, scheduled for April 21, was postponed after the board asked for more time to review public comments in the case.
In addition to delaying the more immediate matter of whether Facebook should hand Trump back one of the megaphones he used to undermine the results of a legitimate election and effectively attempt to enact a coup, the board’s indecision has given ammo to critics who argue Facebook only created the board to shield the company from hard decisions and bad press.
A group of academics, journalists and nonprofit leaders calling themselves the “Real Facebook Oversight Board” pointed out those shortcomings in a response Wednesday.
“The whole thing has revealed itself to be a completely pointless charade, in that Facebook essentially set up this body as a PR device,” Carole Cadwalladr, a co-founder of the group and journalist at The Guardian, told CNBC.
“The Oversight Board, in complete fairness, said, ‘Nuh-uh, no way, you’re actually responsible for this,’ and so it’s punted the decision back to Facebook,” she added.
Though Facebook loves to compare the board to a “Supreme Court,” it’s nothing of the sort.
For starters, as Cadwalladr notes: Facebook is a private company; Facebook does not have a Constitution; and Facebook isn’t bound by the First Amendment. Facebook also handpicked all 20 Oversight Board members ― a group that does not include a single expert on disinformation ― and provided all $130 million of their funding.
And while Facebook says the Oversight Board’s rulings are binding, if it arbitrarily decided not to implement them, it could easily do so. The company also has a carve-out for “recommendations” from the board, which it can implement or ignore at its leisure.
“Nobody wants to take responsibility for this decision, but it is Facebook’s responsibility,” Cadwalladr told CNBC. “They are a private company, and the preposterous thing they’ve done, which is to set up this body, and to cloak it in the language of a Supreme Court ... is ridiculous.”